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Review: “Everything Everywhere All At Once” explores multiversal eccentricity

Daniels’ “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” a multi-genre film that lives up to its title, follows an unlikely hero in her journey to save the universe from an all-powerful chaotic evil (and a bagel).
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Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is a failure. At least, in her universe she is. Every mediocre day feels the same, she has rocky relationships with her family, her laundromat is facing closure during a tough audit and none of her hobbies ever really pan out.

As these failures come crashing down on her, she’s faced with a choice from an unlikely source: continue living this way, unsatisfied and stagnant, or join the fight against an otherworldly force of chaos that’s slowly devouring other realities into a literal “everything” bagel black hole.

The title gets it right. This is a film about the dynamics of love and trauma within a Chinese American Family, intense philosophical multiversal theory and hot dog fingers, all while genre-jumping at head-spinning speeds. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is simultaneously an action-packed, heartstring-tugging sci-fi comedy.

The Daniels, as the writing-directing duo refer to themselves, are also responsible for “Swiss Army Man,” an equally weird and well-done film starring Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano. “Everything” oozes imagination from every dimension.

Evelyn’s journey begins on the way to a meeting with Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis, and yes that’s really her name), a crotchety, power-drunk IRS auditor who “sees a story” in every pile of receipts. On the elevator ride up, goofy and well-meaning husband Waymond Wang’s (Ke Huy Quan) body is snatched by himself from another universe, a place where humans have learned to jump between realities by way of performing unique acts that connect their multiple selves.

He tells her that the Alpha-verse, his home, and all other universes are in danger of ruin at the hands of Jobu Tupaki, the aforementioned all-consuming bagel creator and all around lover of anarchy. Evelyn may be their only chance to stop it, if she can master reality-jumping.

But Evelyn has a lot on her mind. She’s just had another fight in a line of many with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), her aging father (James Hong, hilariously stern) never seems to approve of her best efforts and Evelyn has a New Years party to prep for, all while her husband files for divorce and habitually puts comically large googly eyes on their household objects (an annoyance to Evelyn).

In Quan’s first major role since his action-packed childhood (starring as Data in “The Goonies” and sidekick Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”), his original Waymond serves — at the risk of being cliche — as the lovable goofball who believes fighting isn’t the answer. His joyful performance throughout “Everything” perfectly contrasts Evelyn’s initial negativity and Jobu Tapaki’s “nothing matters” attitude.

As perfectly cast Deirdre drones on and on about her prowess as an auditor (pointing to her buttplug-shaped IRS awards for proof), Evelyn’s mind wanders to the note left for her by Alpha-verse Waymond, and after switching her shoes to the wrong feet, she finds herself split in two. One Evelyn remains at Deirdre’s dull beige desk, tuning out her monotonous scolding, while the other stands confused in a distant janitor’s closet.

Yeoh’s ability to convey exactly what she’s feeling just with a look is what makes her Evelyn so compelling. She shines in every version of herself — as a loving mother, stern caretaker and stubborn individual — ultimately embodying the most flawed and utterly human superhero I’ve ever seen in a multiverse movie. In “Everything,” her performance brings tears, laughter and awe, often in the same breath, effortlessly.

“Every rejection, every disappointment, has led you here to this moment,” Alpha Waymond says in the alternate IRS broom closet, before cultist Deirdre bashes this Evelyn’s head in with a pipe, sending her back to her home universe. Soon, we get a glimpse into the technicolor terror that is Jobu Tupaki, a playfully psychotic Hsu, and realize that things are a bit more complex than Alpha Waymond let on.

Hsu herself effortlessly portrays an intensely nihilistic antagonist in a glittering, radiant package, bolstered by Shirley Kurata’s costume design — which brings the term “camp” to new heights. Though her reputation as a villain precedes her actual entrance, Hsu brings a depth to Tupaki’s cavalier attitude as she traverses the universe in avoiding the realities of intergenerational trauma.

The film condenses hours of worldbuilding into one hushed explanation between Evelyn and Alpha Waymond as they hide from Jobu Tupaki’s agents — just one example of the film’s excellent writing — after he beats a barrage of them off with a fanny pack in an intensely choreographed (and side-splitting) fight scene, the first of many in that same vein.

Each is more thrilling than the last, with stunning cuts between universes illuminated by performances from a stellar cast who each embody dozens of same-but-different characters perfectly. The humor is astute and wildly silly, the tender moments heartfelt and lovingly acted, solidifying “Everything Everywhere All At Once” as a master work.

Because Evelyn is so wildly unremarkable at everything she does, she’s perfectly suited to become anything, go anywhere, just like Jobu Tupaki. As she travels between her endless selves, she finds that Alpha-Waymond’s words were true. Her weaknesses are actually strengths, tools to be used in bringing her family back together and ultimately saving the universe.

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